The study found that fake news made vaccine safety concerns hyped
Russian and Chinese media are systematically trying to sow distrust of Western COVID-19 vaccines in their latest disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing the West, a European Union report said on Wednesday.
From December to April, state media in both countries released fake news online in several languages, sensationalizing concerns about vaccine safety, making unfounded links between vaccines and deaths in Europe and promoting Russian and Chinese vaccines as superiors, concluded the EU study.
The Kremlin and Beijing deny all allegations of misinformation by the EU, which produces regular reports and seeks to work with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to limit the spread of false news.
Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy “follows a zero-sum game logic and is combined with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine confidence in western-made vaccines,” said the EU study, released by the bloc’s disinformation unit.
“Both Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media vehicles and social media, including official diplomatic accounts on social media, to achieve these goals,” the report said, citing 100 Russian examples this year.
The EU and NATO regularly accuse Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilize the West by exploiting divisions in society.
“A disinformation report that has no factual basis is itself an example of disinformation,” the Chinese mission told the EU in a statement dated Thursday in response to the report.
Russia denies such tactics, and President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign enemies of targeting Russia by spreading false news about the coronavirus.
Problems in providing vaccines with AstraZeneca, as well as very rare side effects with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, have been apprehended, the report said.
“Both the official Chinese channels and the pro-Kremlin media have expanded the content on the supposed side effects of Western vaccines, misrepresenting and sensationalizing reports from the international media and associating deaths with the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine in Norway, Spain and elsewhere,” said the report.
Last year, China tried to block an EU report alleging that Beijing was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Reuters investigation.
Although the EU did not vaccinate its 450 million citizens as fast as Britain, which is no longer a member of the bloc, vaccines are now picking up speed, led by vaccines from the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Russian media reported that “Brexit saved the UK from the ‘vaccine chaos’ that surrounds the EU,” the EU said.
“These narratives indicate an effort to sow division within the EU,” he added.
In the report, the EU said Russia’s official Twitter account for Sputnik V sought to undermine public confidence in the European Medicines Agency.
Sputnik V replied that the disinformation campaign is against Russia and its vaccine, not the other way around.
“We will continue to fight the disinformation campaign against Sputnik V in the interest of protecting lives around the world and avoiding the vaccine monopoly that some vaccine producers can strive for,” the newspaper said on Twitter.
The Twitter account is managed by the Russian sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for the marketing and promotion of the Sputnik V vaccine.
China, for its part, promoted its vaccines as a “global public good” and presented them “as most suitable for developing countries and also for the Western Balkans,” the report said.
The Western Balkan countries are seen as future members of the EU.